News to Me: Pedro Almodóvar, Angela Schanelec, and the Oscars
Parasite (Bong Joon Ho, 2019)
1. People were calling it “Hollywood’s biggest night.” All the stars were there. The Oscars: historically perfect and critically adored. In an award ceremony that lasted just nine hours, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided all the year’s Best films last night. But for as much as we bemoan them, they may have gotten a few things right—foremost, every award won by Parasite, which included Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and the newly-named “International Film.” Our cover film for September-October 2019, you can read Amy Taubin’s piece on the Korean sensation here (as well as a piece by Ari Aster with purchase). And for a full breakdown of all the films nominated last night—including the lesser-loved Judy, Bombshell, and The Two Popes—check out this piece by A.S. Hamrah, complete with such gibes like, “In Sir Sam Mendes’s 1917, form and content meet in perfect harmony: the pointlessness of the film exactly mirrors the pointlessness of World War I.”
2. To celebrate the Academy Awards, The Paris Review has unlocked three great film-adjacent reads, including one of their signature longform interviews—this from Billy Wilder on Sunset Boulevard: “Although it was a great success, it was about Hollywood, exaggerated and dramatized, and it really hit a nerve . . . in the big Paramount screening room, Louis B. Mayer said loudly, We need to kick Wilder out of America if he’s going to bite the hand that feeds him.” The other two: A piece of short fiction from Hernan Diaz, who writes on “the sense of relief when the lights fade out and the world dissolves” in the movie theater; and an ode to matinées from Chase Twitchell.
3. There are many ways to appraise the health of American cinema. Awards, such as the Oscars, are one. Box office receipts are another. According to Boxoffice Pro’s annual industry audit, 2019 will go down in history as the second-highest-grossing year on record at the domestic box office. Most notably, in a year that saw the North American market rake in $11.4 billion, over a third of that belonged to Disney (whose total global revenue was something closer to $70 billion—roughly what it cost to acquire 21st Century Fox). But looking beyond Disney, Boxoffice Pro break down the many changes happening in the exhibition world—which theater chains are thriving or merging or going bust—with AMC and their newly-implemented Stubs loyalty program reigning in the top spot.
4. “[Kirk] Douglas made approximately 40 movies in the decades that followed, turning to directing before earning a slew of lifetime-achievement awards . . . It is difficult to overstate his tremendous status as one of the last golden-age stars, whose purely American persona in front of and behind the camera still shapes our understanding of celebrity today.” Writing for Vulture, Angelica Jade Bastién asks what it means to mourn the golden age of Hollywood, especially in terms of a figure like Douglas, whose image of “undaunted power and blustering machismo” has quickly fallen out of favor.
5. In another tragic loss for the industry, beloved film critic and screenwriter F.X. Feeney passed away last week. Feeney was the longtime book and film critic for LA Weekly and served as the resident film critic and creative consultant for Jerry Harvey’s Z Channel—one of the first pay television channels in the United States. A member of LAFCA for many years, Feeney’s work has been published widely (you can read an excerpt from his book on Orson Welles at LARB). In 2006, he collaborated with Michael Mann (who pays his respects here) to complete a book on the director’s work. Longtime friend and ex-colleague Manohla Dargis offered some recommended reading in the wake of his death: this piece on Heaven’s Gate.
6. Non-French speakers will be grateful to learn that The New Yorker’s Richard Brody has been reporting recent Cahiers du cinema news on Twitter. If you do speak a little of le français (or can hit “Translate” when Google prompts you), this piece from Les Echos notes that the little yellow book has been bought by “twenty cinephiles” who maintain a “devotion to auteur cinema” (which is “under attack” by “Netflix-like platforms”). Hoping to return the magazine to its central place in French culture, the new owners are pushing for a greater emphasis on national cinema and its proponents, inviting more French filmmakers to write or be interviewed or have special editions dedicated to their work. They are also planning future collaborations with the Cannes Film Festival (which, Brody notes, banned then-critic François Truffaut from attending in 1958).
7. FC mainstay Nick Pinkerton has been making the rounds of late, beginning with this piece for Artforum on the films of Angela Schanelec (playing at Film at Lincoln Center until the end of the week). Describing Schanelec’s use of color, Pinkerton writes of The Dreamed Path: “there is a brief sequence of shots involving a woman boarding a bus—yellow, against a cobalt dusk—in the suburbs, then turning to look out the window. It is one of the most moving things I have seen in recent cinema, and I can’t even begin to tell you why.” Another piece, this time for 4Columns, looks also at the Horace B. Jenkins film Cane River, thought lost until its rediscovery in 2013 (playing at BAM until February 20). And earlier this month, Pinkerton leaked his suspiciously unreleased Parasite review—more critical of the film than most (likely quashed by Big Bong lobbyists). If that’s still not enough NP for the diehards, he’ll be introducing a screening of Ann Hui’s Song of Exile on February 18 at Light Industry in Brooklyn.
8. More great criticism from J. Hoberman this week. The first piece, for The New York Times, covers “Albert Lewin’s gloriously Technicolor modern myth,” Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, currently playing at The Quad. And the second, which sadly wades back into The Discourse, combines superheroes and politics to look at Joker as “the year’s Trumpiest movie.” Noting that the President had a special screening for “family, friends, and some staff,” Hoberman wonders what it was Trump liked in the film: “So many possibilities to tickle the Trump brain, but one thing is certain. There was no shock of recognition.” Of the film itself, Hoberman sings high praise: “Not only an intelligent throwback to the feel-bad shock cinema of the 1970s, Joker is all but unique in its social realism: No other movie so cogently addresses the crisis of the present moment, both in Hollywood and the world.”
9. IndieWire picked up some new-film news on the red carpet last night, reporting that Pedro Almodóvar currently has two projects on the horizon. Both marking his first foray into English-language filmmaking, the first stars Tilda Swinton in a short film adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s one-act play The Human Voice. “She’s so open, so intelligent,” Almodóvar said of the actress. “She gave me a lot of confidence with the logic. In the rehearsal, we understood each other very closely.” The second project, which Almodóvar hopes to begin by the end of the year, will be a feature-length adaptation of Lucia Berlin’s short story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women.
10. The Independent Spirit Awards took place on Saturday night, with Lulu Wang’s The Farewell winning Best Feature. Other big winners included The Lighthouse, finally seeing some love on the award circuit for Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Male, Marriage Story for Best Screenplay, and Uncut Gems, which took home three prizes: Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Male Lead. In his acceptance speech, Adam Sandler joked about being “snubbed by the Academy,” and compared the two award ceremonies to categories in a high school yearbook: “Tonight, as I look around this room, I realize, The Independent Spirit Awards are the Best Personality awards of Hollywood.”
We leave you this week with Sandler’s speech in full, delivered for no good reason in the voice of some kind of southern gentleman: